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Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style [Paperback]

by Arthur Plotnik
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 8, 2007 0375722270 978-0375722271 Reprint
Today's writer needs more than just a solid knowledge of usage and composition to write successfully. Bestselling author Arthur Plotnik reveals the secrets to attention-grabbing, unforgettable writing, in this trade paperback edition.

Updated with all-new writing exercises, Spunk & Bite will help writers take books, articles, business reports, memos, and even e-mail messages to the next level.

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Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style + Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Plotnik, author of the well-respected Elements of Editing (1982), takes on the venerable duo of Strunk and White in this peppery guide to vibrant writing. Implying that Strunk and White's revered Elements of Style might be a little stodgy in its prescriptive approach to language, Plotnik advocates that writers judiciously bend the rules, "drawing on all levels of language to animate expression." To that end, he devotes 31 chapters to detailed analyses of the factors that make language sing. He is especially adept at providing exactly the right felicitous quotation to make his point and draws from a wide variety of writers. In discussing onomatopoeia, for example, he cites the "THROCK" and "SPLOOSH" of graphic novelist Mike Allred and also excerpts comedic writer James Thurber, who long ago was writing about tires that "booped and whooshed." In addition, Plotnik addresses such practical topics as the question of audience, providing a pocket guide to the different generations and their wildly varying approaches to the written word. Moving seamlessly between instruction and quotation, Plotnik's work makes for addictive reading for both aspiring and veteran writers. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

" . . .delivers what it advertises: a kick in the pants toward bold, contemporary style. . . .  This will be the best ten bucks you've ever spent. . . . 5 of 5 stars" ---Jules L., 15 Nov., 2009 --Go, Go, Gatsby (gogogatsby.com)

"[A] book filled with wise advice, many belly laughs, and much inspiration. I re-read it from front to back at least once a year--and I dip into its pages from time to time as a way of recharging my writing batteries. -"The Five Best Writing Books No One Ever Told You About," Daphne Gray-Grant, July 2, 2013, Ragan's PR Daily: Europe

"[L]oving language doesn't mean we always understand how particular words or expressions work their magic. Personally, I really love it when someone like Plotnik can break it down for me, help me look under the hood to see how that writer I so admire has done it." ---Nancy Wick, The Editor's POV, Jan. 6, 2011

Billy Collins, former American Poet Laureate
A must for every writer's desk.

Richard Lederer, co-author of The Write Way and Comma Sense
...Plotnik not only knows how to write about spunk and bite. He writes with spunk and bite. So will you, if you take in the wisdom of his colorful, learned, and caring advice.

Andrea J. Sutcliffe, editor, The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage
Spunk & Bite
belongs next to Strunk and White on every writer's desk.

Poynter Online - (Chip Scanlan, “Chip on Your Shoulder”), March 6, 2006
Instead of rules, Spunk & Bite offers choices bolstered with real-world examples. . . . Plotnik . . . zooms in close, helping writers deconstruct their prose from the ground floor -- word to clause to sentence -- up to paragraphs and chapters to our Holy Grail, a finished piece of writing. . . . Unlike Strunk & White's catalogue of abstractions and rhetorical ruler slaps, Plotnik's Spunk & Bite is refreshingly concrete. Its author know his linguistic stuff and so can you.

College and Research Library News - March 2006 (George Eberhart)
[A] bookful of remedies for literary listlessness, sprinkled with examples of ringing prose penned by wordsmiths from Poe to Proulx. Plotnik rips past the rigid rules of Strunk and White’s 1959 Elements of Style and calls on writers to invigorate stodgy phrasings and pallid diction with freshness, texture, force, and form. Each chapter contains apt advice on what to avoid (actionless action, wandering modifiers, exhausted adverbs) and what to emulate (over-the-top tropes, killer megaphors, enallage, foreignisms, nuanced semicolons, edgy style). An energetic and entertaining read for cramped writers.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Reference; Reprint edition (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375722270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375722271
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Arthur Plotnik, in spite of his funny name, is a versatile author with a distinguished background in editing and publishing. Two of his works have been featured as Book-of-the-Month Club selections: "The Elements of Editing," a standard reference through some 20 printings, and "The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words." Reviewers have consistently praised Plotnik's writing for its accuracy, style, and wit, often ranking it with "The Elements of Style" (Strunk & White)in practicality. However, his popular "Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style" (Random House)challenges some of Strunk & White's inhibiting dictates as it guides the writer to more risk-taking, more adventurous, more publishable prose.

His latest book, published in June 2012 by Viva Editions (Berkeley, CA)completely updates "The Elements of Expression" in a revised and expanded edition. The previous year Viva published his "Better than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives," offering 6,000 alternatives to "great," "awesome," "amazing" and other shopworn terms of praise and acclamation. (www.freshsuperlatives.com) Former Poet Leaureate Billy Collins calls it "AMEN-ASTONISHING!"

A native of White Plains, N.Y., Plotnik studied under Philip Roth and Vance Bourjaily in the Iowa Writers Workshop. After an Army stint, he served as a staff writer on the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, where novelist-to-be William Kennedy worked across the city desk, puffing cigars.

Plotnik ground out 22 pseudonymnous potboilers for the Scott-Meredith Literary Agency, some of them while completing work on the second of two master's degrees (English, library service). In his return to respectability, he surfaced in Washington, D.C, as press and public relations assistant to the Librarian of Congress and newsletter editor. He was later a magazine editor in New York, where the second of his two daughters was born.

As a publisher, Plotnik brought five national awards to the American Library Association's book imprint. He won numerous honors also as editor of "American Libraries," ALA's flagship magazine.

Plotnik has written scores of magazine articles and columns, eight nonfiction books (including his first writer's guide, "The Elements of Authorship") and short stories and poems. He has appeared in publications ranging from "La Prensa" (Bolivia) and "Playboy" to "The New York Times" and "Los Angeles Times." A contributor to "The Writer Magazine" and member of its editorial board, he has also contributed to "Britannica Book of English Usage" and the "American English" column of "American Way" in-flight magazine.

A passionate observer of trees, he is author of "The Urban Tree Book: An Uncommon Field Guide for City and Town," illustrated by his wife, the artist Mary H. Phelan. "The New York Times Book Review" called this work "indispensable." On July 4 of the Constitution's 200th birthday year (1987), the National Archives published his "The Man Behind the Quill," a biography of the Constitution's calligrapher, Jacob Shallus. The award-winning book was highlighted in "Time" magazine and praised as "a small miracle of research."

A popular speaker, Plotnik taught briefly in the journalism department at Columbia College in Chicago. Special honors include service as a charter board member, American Book Awards, and first place in the prestigious "Verbatim" national competition for essays on the English language. He is listed in "Who's Who," "Contemporary Authors," "Journalists of the United States, and other directories of writers and journalists. He lives in Chicago with his wife, the artist Mary H. Phelan, and is represented by literary agent Roger Williams of New England Publishing Associates.


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CPR for dead writing. April 23, 2006
Format:Hardcover
Arthur Plotnik's "Spunk & Bite" is not a primer for beginners. It is a fun-filled romp in which Plotnik, an author, editor, and former publishing executive, demonstrates why slavishly following the rules of Strunk & White's revered classic, "The Elements of Style," will lead to writing that is DOA. In an age of increasingly short attention spans, Plotnik contends that writing must have "punch and vibrancy" in order to grab and hold the reader.

"Spunk & Bite" is divided into eight chapters: Flexibility, Freshness, Texture, Word, Force, Form, Clarity, and Contemporaneity. Plotnik explores such topics the use of arcane words and neologisms, choice of diction, how sentence fragments can energize your prose, and even how to apply the principles of feng shui to writing. Some of Plotnik's advice is pretty standard: avoid cliches and dead metaphors, shun dangling participles and misplaced modifiers, be careful that your subjects and verbs agree, and, for the most part, stay away from the passive voice. We've read all this before in many other writing handbooks.

What is unique about this book is Plotnik's witty and irreverent remarks about the wisdom of taking calculated risks. Try using an original "one-off" phrase if it suits your purpose and don't be afraid to experiment with lively tropes or figures of speech. Will you occasionally make dreadful mistakes? Absolutely. However, you have a great deal more to lose (especially your audience) by playing it too safe. Plotnik gives many examples both from his own writing and from such luminaries as Betty Friedan, Albert Camus, and Toni Morrison, to illustrate his points.

I particularly enjoyed the section on the omission of quotation marks to set off dialogue, a trend that has been in vogue for a while.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Unlike the writer's rule book, Elements of Style, aka Strunk & White, this concise volume offers some thought-provoking suggestions for writing with an extra edge, the advantage of a creative boost in an increasingly competitive market. Strictly following the rules sometimes yields a loss of flavor, or, as Plotnik phrases the issue, "dead writing". Although decidedly unorthodox, these chapters are "meant to energize writing and liberate it from certain outdated style conventions". Flexibility in construction and a freshness of application highlight his approach, avoiding rules that weigh down the prose and thinking a bit outside the box; for example, indulging in oxymoron, indirection and understatement as mechanisms to increase interest. By all means write that banal first draft, urges Plotnik, then "sniff out and destroy everything that smells predictable, clichéd, formulaic, labored or lazy".

Plotnik, author of The Elements of Editing, leaves no stone unturned, no question unchallenged in chapters that address texture, language, force and stimulation, punctuation, clarity and writing for the contemporary marketplace. Using illustrative examples from established writers, unabashedly tossing in his own cleverly-phrased headings and a medley of metaphors, the author wields language like a sharp sword, enthusiastically slashing the hackneyed and overused, probing and questioning, the style as energetic as his intentions. With all its vitality and eagerness, this is a book to be taken seriously, filled with innovative interpretations, a challenge to transcend the ordinary, to consider a fresh, open-minded approach.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The right write stuff December 6, 2005
Format:Hardcover
Where was this delightful little writing book when I was a working editor and looking for holiday treats for my staff or take-aways for meetings or special occasions? Unfortunately, at that time, back in the 20th century, it was probably still churning around in the author's brain. But not to complain. Now that I'm retired, I`ve at least had time to buy it and read it for myself. I've enjoyed this author's previous offerings on language (Elements of Expression) and the art of editing (Elements of Editing), but this one is clearly his best--intelligently organized, easily absorbed, and always entertaining. It's not a style manual or a "how to write" book as such (we have enough of those), but it's a volume anyone interested in words or already engaged in writing is bound to enjoy and profit from. It's open season on dull prose. The examples are contemporary and well chosen and the advice proferred with wit and, well, spunk. Spunk and Bite would certainly be a worthy addition to any writer's shelf or bedtable.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Writer's Reference Shelf Should Be Without It March 1, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I've long-admired Plotnik's column in The Writer Magazine and have saved issues solely because I knew I'd want to revisit a particular piece of his. Spunk & Bite is best of all things Plotnik; broken down into easily digestible chapters and within each chapter he augments his points with entertaining sidebars. The book lends itself to daily visitation, it's almost like a little spiritual guide for writers -- yet, it's packed with practical nuggets.

Someone once asked a famous writer if he thought they had what it takes to make it and the writer replied, "I don't know -- do you love words?" Arthur Plotnik loves words and in this book he challenges conventional wisdom, preserves appropriate sacred tenets and invents some tenets of his own. Spunk & Bite is the kind of book I see myself revisiting cover to cover at least once a year or to simply open up to a random spot when I need inspiration. There's not a wasted page anywhere; a long overdue manifesto for contemporary writing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable addition for any writer
Well organized easy to read and understand. I'm working on my third novel and can put the tips to work right away.
Fun to read and helpful.
Published 4 months ago by Gretchen Stne
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem
This is a great book for anyone who loves writing, whether an expert or a beginner. There are tips and tricks in this book and little neat ways of wrapping your eyes around the... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Cosmic Faerie
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious read.
This book will end the terror of fevered adjectives and slovenly writing found in today's media. This book is stuffed with great tips on writing good copy, so if you're just... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Rustan M.
4.0 out of 5 stars Soma stimulator
(Soma: body of a nerve cell). What this book does to my brain reminds me of those cartoon scenes where two animals, like a kangaroo and Foghorn Leghorn get into a fight inside a... Read more
Published 18 months ago by robnp
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book, one of the best
I bought this yesterday and read until 2am. An inspiring, superbly written, warm, humane, witty, and relevant book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by TooMuchCoffeeGuy
5.0 out of 5 stars Good bite of Spunky style
A good read with a spunky style. A great reference book for any writer's desk. Think of it as jumper cables for your brain's starter battery.
Published 22 months ago by T.Stanford
5.0 out of 5 stars A cut above perfect
*Spunk & Bite* is for me a funky rhythm and jazz resource of techniques and suggestions for bringing writing alive. Read more
Published on February 20, 2012 by Bakari Chavanu
1.0 out of 5 stars Ouch
Full of showy metaphor and stylistic cuteness. (Example: "Try to parse it, and it's hasta la vista, bubela." Ugh.) A really painful read that undercuts its own intent. Read more
Published on January 23, 2012 by whiterockfan
5.0 out of 5 stars Take that Strunk & White!
After reading the Elements of Writing, I'll tell ya, I was discouraged. I tried to write my first book This Road Darkens with their stringent grammer rules. Read more
Published on December 30, 2011 by Joseph P. Yager
1.0 out of 5 stars Careless diction on page 2.
I simply looked at the first few pages and found a glaring error in diction. Page 2 -- "Schizoid?" -- The author should know the correct meaning of psychiatric terms before... Read more
Published on February 20, 2011 by Elliott
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